Manatee Viewing Center Is Turning 30 and Celebrating with an Extraordinary New Feature
The 2016–2017 season is going to be huge. The Manatee Viewing Center is celebrating its 30th Anniversary; it’s expecting its 5 millionth visitor and…….drum roll……they are building (right now, as we speak) an incredible Sting Ray Touch Tank.
Visitors will soon have the opportunity to observe and touch sting rays. The tank is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The new touch tank, a shared project from TECO, the Manatee Viewing Center and the Florida Aquarium, will feature approximately 14 cow nose and southern sting rays.
If you’re a baseball fan you may recognize a few of the sting rays from Tropicana Field. The Manatee Viewing Center Touch Tank is the new winter home for the sting rays that call the Tropicana Field touch tank home during the summer.
The Florida Aquarium will manage the touch tank at the Manatee Viewing Center.
Manatee Viewing Center Grand Opening November 1, 2016
The Manatee Viewing Center’s season runs November 1 – April 15. It is open daily from 10 – 5. Admission and parking are free.
Locals know it’s a bit early right now to spot too many manatees. The gentle giants make their way to our area, and the Manatee Viewing Center, when the weather and water cool down in the bay and gulf. They come to Apollo Beach, and the warm water canal next to TECO, in late fall.
“We’ve already spotted two manatees,” Jamie Woodlee says. Jamie is the Senior Environmental Technician who oversees the Manatee Viewing Center.
Jamie has been with the TECO Environmental Department for 31 years. She has overseen the Manatee Viewing Center for the past 17 years and has been an integral part of its growth. She began her career climbing smoke stacks to do inspections and preparing environmental reports.
The Birth of the Manatee Viewing Center
Of course manatees have always come to this area, but it was the opening of the third TECO stack in the early 80’s at the Big Bend Power Plant that brought the manatees in greater numbers.
“It was the additional warm water expelled from the new stack at the Big Bend plant that created the perfect environment for the manatees,” Jamie says.
Once TECO and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission noticed the huge numbers of manatee the area was closed off to protect the creatures. People could only peek through a fence.
In December of 1986 the area that now houses the Manatee Viewing Center and its surrounding preserve, as well as the Big Bend discharge canal, were designated as State and Federal Sanctuaries. This paved the way to make something more than a fenced-off area.
Incredible Sanctuary to Observe Our Area’s Most Amazing Wildlife
The Manatee Viewing Center came soon after. In the beginning it wasn’t much more than a trailer and dirt paths. It’s grown up over the past three decades to what it is today – an incredible educational and ecotourism destination and place to observe some of our area’s most extraordinary animals.
It’s not uncommon to see spinner sharks and spotted sting rays alongside the manatees in the canal. Bird watching is pretty amazing, too.
The Manatee Viewing Center has raised pathways, a wildlife observation tower, nature trails, educational activities (including a hurricane machine), and incredible kayaking waters. It’s also a great place to picnic, with several picnic tables on the property.
Proceeds from the fabulous gift shop (the holidays are coming!) and concessions cover most of the Manatee Viewing Centers operational expenses. “Fortunately, we don’t get a monthly electric bill,” Jamie jokes. “TECO covers that.” The shop carries manatee and Florida-related gifts.
Manatee Viewing Center: Attracts International Tourists and Press
‘People come from all over the world,” Jamie says. “We hear all kinds of languages during the season.”
The Manatee Viewing Center is also a favorite with the press. “We know as soon as our weather gets cool the press love to come out,” Jamie says. Everyone from Good Morning America to Bay News 9 airs regular stories on the Manatee Viewing Center.
The super big media companies have taken notice, too. The Manatee Viewing Center has appeared on Nat Geo, the Nightly News, and has been the topic of several documentaries.
Other than Jamie Woodlee and Yasmin McComber, the Manatee Viewing Center’s Coordinator of Volunteer and Education Programs, the Manatee Viewing Center is manned mostly by volunteers who act as the center’s educators.
“We need 35-40 volunteers per season,“ says Yasmin. Volunteers receive training and the shirt they wear when working.
Interested in volunteering? Contact Yasmin McComber at (813) 228-1486.
The Manatee Viewing Center also has paid hosts, cashiers and parking attendants during the season.
30th Anniversary Festivities
The Manatee Viewing Center’s 30th Anniversary celebration is set to last all season.
In addition to the new sting ray touch tank, the Manatee Viewing Center has doubled the width of its pathways and nature trails. More walk-overs have been built along the wetlands path so they don’t have to close part of the path after Mother Nature decides to dump buckets of rain. The bathrooms are expanded and the concession stand has gotten a full facelift, too.
Additionally, Yasmin is planning special children’s activities for every weekend. She’s still planning out the full schedule, but there will be craft activities, scavenger hunts, Florida Fish and Wildlife events, and the Molly the Manatee character will be making regular visits. Stay tuned for more details.
They also hope to do something special when the Manatee Viewing Center receives its 5 millionth visitor, which they are guessing will happen around January.
Viewing Center – A Treasure for Our Area
The Manatee Viewing Center is special. Nowhere else on earth (well, maybe somewhere) can you come enjoy, for free, some of nature’s most amazing animals. Manatee, sting rays, sharks, birds and countless varieties of fish – all at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.
Whoever had the idea to turn a utility power station into an international ecotourism destination is genius in my book.
I hope to see everyone at the Manatee View Center this season!
Contact: (813) 228-4289
Location: 6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach, FL 33572
Season: November 1 – April 15
Hours: Daily, 10-5
Gift Shop (incredible gift shop, especially for local gifts): Daily, 10-5
Admission and Parking: Free
Who has taken out of town guests to the Manatee Viewing Center? Comment below.